Out here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, we’ve got a lot of chickens. All my neighbors have them running through their yards, and despite the strong reproductive skills people have around here, there are almost certainly more chickens than humans. My own (I have 16) are just getting to the age when they will start laying, and soon I’ll have to deal with another reality of this part of the world: The eating of many, many eggs. Maybe a dozen a day, maybe more if I want to keep up. In 1910, Horne’s Pennsylvania German Manual listed eggs as the top “crop,” and so it’s not surprising that eggs play a large role in the food from these parts. They are used in the dough of noodles and by the dozen in cakes. There are stuffed eggs (similar to Deviled eggs) and eggs poached in milk, and then, there are beet-pickled eggs.
Pickled eggs are hard-boiled, sitting in a sweet and sour brine that helps preserve them for months. This technique is not unique to Amish country, but here we make them prettier with help from red beets, which dye the liquid bright crimson. The eggs slowly absorb the color, going from a pale pink after a few hours to a deep blood red after they’ve been sitting for a while. They’re a gorgeous, otherworldy sight, and folks out here love them—they’re sold in grocery stores by the quart. Local bars are book-ended with gallon-sized jars of ruby-red orbs, and I keep them in my fridge at all times. They’re a perfect breakfast or snack on their own and a pretty addition to a salad, but now that it’s summer and picnic time, I make the best deviled eggs with them.
Still, they usually need help. Chances are if you’ve had a beet-pickled egg and haven’t liked it, it’s because it was a too-sweet, glowing, rubbery egg. The store-bought versions are often loaded with sugar, and sometimes, red food coloring makes them alarmingly neon. And they are always marinated too long, the vinegar turning the delicate whites into rubber balls. It’s a shame that something so simple and straightforward can have such poor versions lying around. So let’s change that. My recipe has a lowered amount of sugar, which makes for a more grown-up tasting egg, and relies solely on the beet as the coloring agent. The final trick is to remove the eggs from the pickling liquid after only a couple hours so they don’t become rubbery, and are a sight to behold. The pink color slowly penetrates the white and ends up looking like a sunrise when the eggs are halved.
Add some intrigue with mustard, round it off with mayo, and some hot sauce kick, and the resulting deviled eggs are more fun than chasing chickens through the yard.
Pennsylvania Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs
Makes 24 deviled eggs
3 cups water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 small beet, peeled and sliced
1 small shallot, sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon pickling spice
12 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled
½ cup mayonnaise, or more to taste
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Bring the water, vinegar, beet, shallot, sugar, pickling spice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then lower the liquid to a simmer, covered, until the beet is tender, about 20 minutes. Cool the liquid completely, uncovered. Put the beet mixture in a container with the eggs and marinate, chilled, gently stirring once or twice, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. (The longer the time, the stronger the color and flavor will be, but also firmer the texture of the egg. So it’s up to you.)
2. Remove the eggs from the beet mixture and pat them dry. Cut each egg in half lengthwise and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks with the mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, and half the parsley. Season the filling with salt and pepper, then divide it among the egg whites. Top with the rest of the parsley.